Cynthia Erdley can trace her interest in the science of peer relationships to her days as a baby sitter in high school when she was fascinated by the way children interacted.
Since joining UMaine in 1992, her research has focused broadly on understanding the relationship between children’s friendships and social and emotional adjustment. She’s explored how having a friend can impact both internalizing problems, like loneliness, anxiety or depression, as well as externalizing problems, like aggression. Her research has also shown how quality friendships predict both academic performance and success in social transitions, like moving to a new school. For Erdley, seeing how friendships have changed and evolved throughout her career is particularly exciting.
Some of Erdley’s most recent research has been on the use of social media and its impact on the friendships of adolescents. Social media has been a game-changer in terms of the amount of contact peers can have with one another. Adolescence used to be the stage when older youth began to spend more time with their friends and gained more control over their social lives. Now, though, due to the omnipresence of social media, that stage occurs as early as late elementary school.
Social media has certainly provided an avenue for bullying or other types of negative interaction, but in general, Erdley sees it as a mostly positive thing.
When used appropriately, the online social lives of children and adolescents in many respects mimic their face-to-face friend networks, says Erdley. It has allowed children and adolescents to greatly expand their friendship networks, and has provided the tools to support and maintain ties with peers from all over.